2018 has been a tumultuous year for BROCKHAMPTON. After a lightning-fast rise into the mainstream due to last year’s brilliant SATURATION album trilogy and co-signs from the likes of Rick Rubin, Zane Lowe, and Jaden Smith, the group faced seemingly impassable abuse allegations towards founding member Ameer Vann. Many saw Vann as an integral part of the crew, and after his forced departure in May the group cancelled their summer tour and project PUPPY planned for release in the following month. After visible distress during their final group performances and a social media blackout, the remaining members headed off to Hawaii for a detox period, akin to Kanye West’s self-imposed exile to Honolulu in 2009. The group returned in midsummer with new singles “TONYA”, an emotional and self-reflective ballad debuted on The Tonight Show, and “1999 WILDFIRE”, a general return to form following the hook-driven bangers on their debut albums. iridescence was announced just last month, presumably made in just under two weeks at the famed Abbey Road studio in London. While fans presumed the project would be a quiet regrouping filled with sentimental reflection and minimal thematic ideas, the end result is an entirely different experience.
While the SATURATION series was defined by catchy hooks and posse-cuts, iridescence is at every turn unpredictable and maximal. The production across the project is some of the most abrasive and layered in recent memory, exemplified immediately by the grainy and sonorous opener “NEW ORLEANS”. In addition to being the first BROCKHAMPTON song to date with a featured artist, Jaden Smith in this instance, it signifies the aggressive, no-holds-barred energy seen across the album. The group’s entire roster is present on “NEW ORLEANS”, allowing usually under-performing members like Merlyn Wood, Bearface (Ciarán McDonald), and Joba (Russell Boring) to step up and match the impressive cohesion of the group. The track’s transition into “THUG LIFE” features a pristine piano section and harmonized vocals from Bearface and group head Kevin Abstract, presenting one of the album’s many thematic themes with the refrain: “Try to treat man like baby/Feel the teeth sink in like rabies”. Likely referencing the album’s cover art, which features the thermal image of an unknown pregnant woman, the discussion of maturity during both fame and early adulthood is a clear running message of iridescene.
“BERLIN” quickly reignites the record’s energy with an inescapable hook and vicious production featuring a car engine. McLennon’s second verse is the apparent highlight of the track, with him bragging about the group’s insurmountable work ethic even after facing the Vann situation earlier in the year (“Howling at the moon, I’ll be back in June/Told my baby I’d be back around November/Did some Beatles sh*t to kick off this September”) before growing distortion and “Runaway”-esque auto tune close the song out. “WHERE THE CASH AT” feels like the spiritual successor to SATURATION I’s “CASH”, albeit it being twice as aggressive as before. Wood takes the helm on the track, accompanying the synthetic, pulsing beat with a slew of gangster-rap era threats and unbridled energy. “WEIGHT” is an early favorite of the album, featuring a glimpse into each member’s personal struggles amidst a gorgeous string section and airy vocal bridges. Abstract discusses his early grappling with his sexuality and the distancing of himself and close family, while Dom McLennon and Joba weigh in on loneliness away from home, corruption, and mental health (“Cause we’re born with a dollar sign attached to our temple/Life is a dish served cold most times/And all my life I’ve taken handfuls, force-fed by the hand that feeds us”). The track features some of the most astonishing production on the album, transitioning to accompany each verses’ emotional high point.
“DISTRICT” is defined by a brazen beat-switch and a triple-threat of verses featuring McLennon, Matt Champion, and Joba, with the latter being my favorite of the bunch (“Praise God, hallelujah! I’m still depressed!”). Bearface’s hook is downward and draining, and adds to the track’s subdued breakdown of an outro. “TAPE” emanates of a serious sense of urgency due to its fast-paced, Radiohead-sampling instrumental. Abstract breaks into a self-deprecating discussion over insecurities, family values, and his relationship to fans (“ I could barely rap, I could barely dance”), accompanied by ultra-personal bars on suicidal tendencies and egoism from Joba and Champion. “J’OUVERT”, the first track to get a music video as of now, totes one of the best beats on the project thanks to in-house producer Jabari Manwa: industrial, buzzing, and complementing the paranoid nature of the track. Joba’s verse is an easy highlight of the track, reminding me of an early Eminem performance. The psychedelic jazz passage that leads into Wood’s verse is also great touch, adding to his laidback posture on one of his most memorable performances to date. The following track “HONEY” is bouncy and EDM-like, featuring slick verses from Abstract and McLennon and transitioning with a chopped & screwed sample of the group’s SATURATION I track “BUMP”, while “VIVID” fakes out the listener with a swift Champion-led beat switch, a vibrant Bearface bridge (“Even though my teeth not gold, baby girl know our pockets drip folds”), and a high-energy verse from McLennon.
“SAN MARCOS” has been labeled by many listeners as the emotional summit of the record, referencing the group’s early days in the referenced Texas city. The subdued guitar-driven instrumental feels like a callback to early BROCKHAMPTON tracks like “SWIM” and “MILK”, with Bearface and Abstract driving the majority of the track with slow-moving banter. Joba’s quaint verse is another excellent emotional display: “ I’m afraid of commitment, don’t know how to fix it, Maybe codependent, can’t tell the difference”), with the track ending via a beautiful outro from the London Community Gospel Choir. “TONYA”, the only track to be revealed before iridescence's release, comes off beautifully in its CD quality. Bearface’s hook is lofty and vulnerable, while Abstract’s verse is a testament to the potholes that arise with fame: “ I deleted Facebook, I’ll trade fame any day, For a quiet Texas place and a barbecue plate”. Wood’s verse is easily his most personal on the record, discussing leaving home and the battle between self-worth and wealth. Featured artist Serpentwithfeet steals the show towards the end of the track, adding a falsetto inflection onto layers of drums and piano in a style similar to Frank Ocean’s “Ivy”. Closing track “FABRIC” is a subtle finisher, with highlights including Wood‘s whispery and claustrophobic hook and Joba’s gothic refrain. Abstract ends the track with a shouty chorus that swells with the airhorn-like beat, sneaking in a “post-credits” line teasing iridescence as the first in the group’s next trilogy, “THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES”.
While BROCKHAMPTON could have easily returned to the hook-verse-hook formula that founded their career on the SATURATION trilogy, their fourth album is an entirely unpredictable change of pace for fans and critics alike. The production is easily some of the most unique in recent memory, tapping into dynamic inspirations like Kanye’s Yeezus, Outkast’s Aquemini, and The Talking Heads, while each group member feels expertly used and driven to some of their finest performances to date (especially considering Joba, Wood, and Bearface). iridescence is an uncompromising album from a once in a generation group, never feeling complacent and always pushing itself to indulge in a rich sonic palette. If the next two albums of “THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES” can match this level of quality, we’re in for something truly special.